If you wear eyeglasses, you’ve probably experienced that sinking feeling, when after finally deciding on the perfect frame, you look in horror at the inexplicably high price casually scribbled on a sticker inside the arm. You look at the structure of the frame, the integrity of the plastic, the sturdiness of the screws, and think, “$450, for these?” The dirty secret of the eyeglass world is that the price is not a matter of quality, or even style.
Many eyewear insiders claim the high markup of name-brand frames is attributed in part to a single company that owns and operates under the guise of such popular designer labels as Chanel, Prada, Ray-Ban, Oliver Peoples and Dolce & Gabbana. Beginning in the 1990s, Italy-based Luxottica bought a large number of the global eyewear brands. It also purchased retail chains LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, and the eyewear departments of Sears and Target.
In response to the limited options available for affordable, quality eyewear, some retailers started digging into dusty storage vaults in search of decades-old designer frames, dubbed “deadstock eyewear.”
An emerging trend across Canada, deadstock refers to unworn inventory that for decades sat forgotten in boxes in manufacturers’ warehouses or storerooms of opticians’ shops. Most deadstock was manufactured between the 1960s and late 1980s, and tends to be priced considerably lower than contemporary frames. Much of it was manufactured before Luxottica bought the brand. The frames retain the original designer’s craftsmanship and quality, usually with the original sales tag still on them. A deadstock frame can cost as little as $75 or up to $250, depending on the designer and rarity of the frame.
American Apparel was the first retailer to begin stocking deadstock eyewear across Canada in 2006. Owner Dov Charney bought his first batch from Harry Toulch Vision in Montreal and displayed two or three pairs near the cash register. Today a growing number of Canadian eyeglass stores regularly sell deadstock to savvy consumers interested in style, quality, and affordable prices.
Opticianado is a Toronto store that specializes in Canadian-made deadstock. Owner Jordan Paul’s impressive collection is mainly from New Brunswick and Ontario, once the hubs for Canada’s eyeglass manufacturing industry: Canadian Optical, Ralph Lauren and American Optical were made there.
Frames from the deadstock era were higher quality because they were carved and hand-polished from solid blocks of acetate. The current practice of injection-molded plastic has a cheaper feel and frames can break down faster.
Another bonus of buying deadstock eyewear is there is more variance in size, says Paul. Back when each brand designed its own frames, proportions like bridge width and arm contour would vary by design house. With mass production came uniform sizing. If you’re looking for the perfect fit in a pair by Chanel, for example, look for the deadstock version rather than the same brand from this year’s production line.
Michelle Kelly, owner of the Vancouver optical store Eye Candy, looks for artful deadstock frames in cities like Milan, New York, Paris, Rome, and Cannes, regardless of brand. “The more exotic the better,” she says. Most deadstock collectors and retailers attest to the huge amount of ingenuity and diversity of vintage styles. “They were bigger and badder back in the day,” says the Montreal optometrist Michael Toulch. “More colour, more wild styles. Those big hairdos needed big-attitude glasses to go along with them.”
Iris Alonzo, creative director at American Apparel, worries that yet-to-be discovered reserves of deadstock may eventually dry out. “We have been, and we are, constantly on the hunt for more, though the question remains—how long will they last? So far, though, every time we think we have cleaned out a city, another treasure trove surfaces.” With collectors and retailers constantly on the hunt for more deadstock supply, rest assured this trend will not die out any time soon.